Expat Learnings

Things I’ve learned as an American expat in the UKoGBaNI #11


Healthcare in the US is often times over-the-top.

The healthcare systems in the US and UK are two very different systems at opposite ends of the healthcare spectrum. The UK does too little when it comes to treating people and the US does too much (too many tests, too many appointments, too many medications). Americans are too babied when it comes to their symptoms and the British are told too often to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and deal with it.”

It’s estimated that 10,000 people in the UK die every year due to poor NHS care but did the US healthcare system fail my mother by diagnosing her multiple times with a sinus infection instead of taking an x-ray which would have revealed she had lung cancer? Yes, however, it is unlikely that obtaining a lung cancer diagnosis two months before she was actually diagnosed would have changed the outcome aside from allowing me to fly to Minnesota earlier and spend more time with her.

Over the past two years, Peter and I have had better experiences with the UK healthcare system. This is largely due to us having learned the ropes on how to skip through the National Health Service and into private healthcare. The process is simple – visit your general practitioner with a problem and be upfront about your private health insurance coverage. As much as you want your issue to be expedited under the private healthcare sector, your general practitioner will as well because it takes the stress off of the national system.

As an example, I sustained an injury to my heel at OrangeTheory Fitness. We did a 30-second sprint on the treadmill at an incline of 15%. It wasn’t until later that night when I felt intense pain in my heel. It sort of felt like a pulled muscle but at the same time, felt like someone was pinching the back of my Achilles. I took some ibuprofen but the pain persisted for a couple of days as I rested my foot. About a week later, I ran for a couple of minutes on the treadmill and this ignited my injury and since this injury was in my left ankle, the one containing a jumble of screws and a metal plate, I thought maybe it was time to see a doctor.

I told my GP that I had private insurance, she wrote a referral letter to a specialist. Two days later, I met with a sports orthopedic who ordered x-rays and an MRI. Within another two days, the results were in. I had a stress fracture in my heel. Had I not had private health insurance, the wait time for an x-ray would have been months and the MRI, even longer. In the US, the orthopedic consultation, x-rays, and MRI would have cost me a nominal amount of money in copays and whatnot and it would have cost a small fortune if I did not have health insurance. In the UK, I paid £0. So, there are positives and negatives to every healthcare system.

Sure the news of a stress fracture is bad but the good news is that the doctor was able to determine that there is no arthritis in my ankle (yet) and that I only have 80 percent of the normal range of motion in my ankle (lesson learned: physical therapy after injuries is very important!).

For the next learning in my Expat Learnings mini series, go here. Alternatively, go here to read this mini-series from the beginning.

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